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On Long Island, George Floyd demonstrations smaller

Protests against police brutality continued across Long Island. Credit: Newsday staff, Randee Daddona, and Howard Schnapp / Alejandra Villa Loarca, Thomas A. Ferrara, Shelby Knowles

This story was reported by Antonio Planas, Nicholas Spangler, John Asbury, Zachary R. Dowdy, Robert Brodsky and Scott Eidler. It was written by Dowdy.

At least six demonstrations against the killing of George Floyd took place on Long Island Tuesday as funeral services were held for the black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Diverse crowds showed up in Syosset, Lindenhurst, Islip, West Hempstead, Smithtown and Hewlett to express outrage against police brutality and racism and to lobby for reforms more than two weeks after Floyd's May 25 death.

The demonstrations in recent days have been largely peaceful, officials said, though they have drawn smaller crowds — hundreds instead of thousands of people — and just a few of the dozens of demonstrations have seen tense exchanges.

About 200 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Hewlett Tuesday afternoon to honor victims who died from police brutality.

The demonstration was held at the hamlet’s LIRR station. Organizers described the event as a candlelight vigil meant to honor black people killed by police throughout the country since last summer.

After Floyd’s name was read, attendees held an eight-minute and 46 second moment of silence to honor him.

High School senior Sofia Pesantez, an organizer, said more awareness about police brutality and racism were needed in the hamlet.

“The racism that black people and people of color [in Hewlett] have experienced has not been spoken about,” she said. “It’s a very needed conversation, especially in this community.”

Juan Figueroa, 42, of Valley Stream, said Tuesday’s vigil marked his second protest in less than a week. He’s demonstrating because “I am totally against racism and racial inequality.” Figueroa also said, “Nothing against police. … Minorities know firsthand how they’re treated.”

Police and area residents were concerned about tensions boiling over at one 6 p.m. protest in Smithtown, where, on Sunday, testy exchanges with counterprotesters sparked volleys of verbal barbs on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Video of the victim of an alleged attack by counterprotesters, and of a man screaming at marchers, have drawn hundreds of thousands of views, and supporters of the protesters are posting information about counterprotesters they say are racist. Meanwhile, some town residents were circulating screen shots of angry tweets they say are by protesters using incendiary language of their own.

On Tuesday, though, amid the presence of dozens of Suffolk police and Smithtown Public Safety, the event was peaceful, if spirited, with as many as 500 people and no counterprotesters.

“Racists aren’t going to run us out of this place,” said Randy Weber, 24, a security guard from Patchogue who said Sunday's counterprotest in Smithtown had spurred him to come out Tuesday. “We’re going to stand our ground.”

He was optimistic that protests around the country would make lasting change, citing legislation proposed in recent weeks to demilitarize police forces and end qualified immunity for officers.

Suffolk police said Tuesday that the alleged assault of a protester at the rally on Sunday would be investigated.

Allison Laffey, 21, of Centereach, said she knew few minorities growing up but had an eye-opening experience in a college class on racial diversity and oppression this spring.

“I think I can make a change — maybe not big systemic changes soon, but I think in my lifetime,” she said.

 Around 8:30 p.m. about 100 the Smithtown protesters went to the Suffolk 4th Precinct, where they faced off with police, many in riot gear. The protesters chants turned angrier as they stood feet from officers, who did not respond. The protesters left the precinct around 9 p.m. 

The West Hempstead protest at Hall’s Pond Park also drew 500 people.

“This is all about a change in our community," said organizer Nicole Fodera, 23, of Bellmore. "We come from a very diverse place and Long Island is one of the most segregated places In the country. We have to recognize this and the privilege we have as white people. We’re here because black lives matter and for systemic change to our racist institutions.”

The protesters marched with a police escort for three miles, up Nassau Boulevard and to Hempstead Avenue with signs saying “Jews for Justice” and "Black Lives Matter.”

Shua Reinstein, 24, of West Hempstead, said he is mixed-race, but was raised in a white Jewish community. He rejected comparisons of “Blue Lives Matter” to the current struggle for racial equality.

“You cannot compare a blue life the same as a black color," she said. "A color is not something you can take off when you come home."

 Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said at her daily briefing on the coronavirus outbreak that this week's protests are "a little bit smaller than they have been."

She added: "The protesters are continuing to make their voices heard. This is part of a national movement" and thanked police "for handling this whole protest movement with professionalism and respect."

At his daily press briefing Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he supported the larger message of the protests.

“We do need to address the type of structural racism that we have talked about here; the type that was covered in a comprehensive report on housing by Newsday,” Bellone said. “We need to do that in areas across our society including in law enforcement and housing and hiring and education; so we need to look at all of those areas.” 

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